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An Indomitable Duo

January 24, 2016
Charnley-Persky House
Most have heard of the legendary forefather of modern American architecture Frank Lloyd Wright, and any archi buff worth their salt is familiar with his most famous structures in Chicago’s Oak Park, but perhaps not quite so known is one of his earliest collaborations, the fascinating Charnley-Persky House.

Located in hi-so hood the Gold Coast, this hulking, unadorned, austere, brown-brick and limestone edifice stands out like a sullen thumb against Astor Street’s jumble of wildly ornate Romanesque, Tudor, and Art Deco-style mansions. But then that is what makes the Charnley-Persky House so remarkably pivotal in the development of modern American architecture – it eschews the fussy historical details of Victorian design in favor of clean-cut abstract form.

The interior, meanwhile, tells a different story entirely with its rich, dark wood ornamentation and dramatic two-floor-spanning atrium that reaches all the way up the roof’s skylight. And that is where the fable behind the facade comes into play...

Louis Sullivan and his junior draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright – both of whose signature styles can be clearly observed in the building – designed this heritage keystone together in 1892 for local lumber success Mr Charnley, and it was eventually donated to the Society of Architectural Historians by Seymour Persky in 1995. Hence the name.

The loveliest thing about this place? Experts say that the fact a lowly draftsman was so involved in the design process at all is a sure a sign of Sullivan's friendship and admiration for Wright. Aww, shucks!

Learn more with one of the foundation’s fascinating free guided tours which take place every Wednesday (45 mins) and Saturday (60 mins) at noon. Or, if you’ve got more than 10 friends in your rolodex, arrange a private house-and-garden visit on a weekday.

1365 N Astor St / Gold Coast / +1 312 573 1365 / tours at noon every Wed & Sat /

© Photos courtesy of David Schalliol